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by Claudia Hirsch

New York, NY – Holiday spending this year should improve over last at many U.S. shopping centers, but gains will be tempered by consumers’ continued price-consciousness, according to mall managers around the country.

The year’s biggest shopping season should extend retail sales’ overall, if uneven, trek higher through much of 2010. The two ends of the retail spectrum, luxury and discount, appear to be faring best, the former mirroring the U.S. stock market’s repair this year, and the latter reflecting consumers’ lingering thrifty mindset.

A few positive indicators, like new-store openings, longer restaurant wait times and stable receipts, are emerging even in the retail segments and geographic areas where the consumption claw-back is toughest. In many arenas, luxury in particular, price discounts and promotions aren’t as deep as in 2009 and 2008. Inventories are slowly enlarging, but within the recession-born context of cautious stocking and a tightly controlled supply chain.

At a middle-market mall in southern California, where unemployment and home foreclosures have ravaged many communities, same-store retail sales for most of the year were equal to a rough 2009, but turned a bit higher beginning in September.

“We feel that this is the beginning of an upswing,” said Scott Cummings, general manager of Antelope Valley Mall, in Palmdale, northeast of Los Angeles. “Next year is going to be a lot brighter.”

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